COMMENTARY BY DR. DAVE SAMUEL
Unless you live in a cave, the realities of coronavirus have set in.
We’ve seen nothing like this before, and it has changed almost every aspect of our lives. Of most concern is our health and that of our family, friends and neighbors. Because of my age, plus a partially paralyzed diaphragm, I’ve holed up, because I cannot afford to get this stuff. Thus, I’m only venturing out to walk my dog at the West Virginia Botanic Garden. Trips to the grocery store have been limited, and Cathy has been doing them.
Hunters and fishermen have a slight advantage here because their freezers contain lots of venison and fish. Great food, healthy food, but what effect with this virus have on our outdoor activities come summer and fall? I don’t fish much anymore, but know many of you do. If you fish in West Virginia, this virus should not impact you. Just grab a rod and go fish. Avoid people and enjoy the outdoors. If you travel out-of-state to fish, that might be another story.
One friend was going to Florida to fish for tarpon. He canceled, and wisely so. Not only would he have put himself in jeopardy to catch the virus, but if he flew, who knows whether he could get back. Would his flight get canceled, or quarantined? You never know.
My bowhunting has already been impacted as I’ve canceled my annual spring hunt for black bear in Saskatchewan. My guide, who lives in a very remote part of the world, doesn’t quite get it.
“This stuff is overblown,” he said. “Come on up.”
Maybe it isn’t a big issue in that very remote location, but it sure is in most places. Even if I decided to go on this early June bowhunt, it’s now out of my hands and so are any other planned Canadian hunting or fishing you had counted on. That border just closed for anyone going north for recreational purposes.
The loss of spring bear hunting in Canada will really hit the rural towns. For example, bear hunting brings $40 million a year to the rural areas of Ontario. And bear hunting is much bigger in the Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Then there are all the fishing lodges where Americans go every summer and fall. Those guides and families and rural towns will suffer huge economic losses. Hard to fathom.
Today, I was to return from the Pope and Young Club Convention near Washington, D.C. Next to bowhunting, attending this affair is extremely rewarding for me. But, of course, that convention was canceled. A lot of such conventions and outdoor shows are gone for the year. The Deer Classics, and a number of other trade shows that many hunters and fishermen attend, are gone. My Canadian bear guide attends several of these, spending a lot of money to recruit clients for his Saskatchewan bear camp. There are hundreds of such camps on Canada, and they are taking a huge hit. If things calm down by fall, you can probably book some great bear hunts for bottom dollar.
We have upward of 350,000 people who bow or gun hunt in West Virginia. Turkey season will be here soon, and health-wise, that should present no problem. Getting out and hearing turkeys gobble is great therapy for any problems you have.
What about fall deer hunting? For those hunters who stay in West Virginia for their deer hunts, I see little problem even if the virus recycles back up a bit in the fall (and I think it will). Many of us hunt alone or at most with one other family member or friend, so your fall hunts should be safe. However, if you hunt in a deer camp, with men and women who come from all over the state, then you might want to rethink that annual tradition for a year and just go alone or with your family who you’ve been around all year.
The other huge concern is one I consider and many of you will, is the fact that our hunting population has a large majority of older hunters. I don’t know what percent of our hunters are over 60 years of age, but it’s high. Of course, we have no idea what the fall holds relative to this virus, but if it’s still around, older hunters need to take precautions.
More and more of our younger West Virginia deer hunters travel to Kentucky, Ohio and other deer states to hunt. I started doing that every fall when I was young. Why? Just fun going to adjacent states where your chances for a bigger buck are higher than here at home. In my case, I’ve always gone to Ohio to bowhunt during Thanksgiving week because the university was on holiday that week, so I could get away. As the years progressed, I started going to Illinois or Iowa to bowhunt that week. Since I retired, I’ve been going to Kansas and Nebraska to chase those big bucks. I know the fall seems like it is a long way off, but this virus could still be impacting our lives and such trips.
In the last five years, several friends and I go to Kansas every November to bowhunt. We’re giving serious consideration to driving instead of flying. If we drive, we encounter very few people. We fly, we’re in a plane with several hundred people. One cough from a person with the virus could get a lot of us. Once in the lodge in Kansas, the only concern is the six hunters who were there the week before we arrive. Could one of them have the virus and left contamination? I guess it’s possible. For all the thousands of hunters that go out-of-state to chase bigger bucks, there could be ramifications. That’s months away, and right now, most of us are just holding forth and taking one day at a time.
Maybe there will be a vaccine by then. That would be great. It’s amazing how the virus as caused our world to turn upside down in just a few weeks. It also amazes me to see so many people helping others, so many restaurants providing free lunches to our kids, so many neighbors worrying about elderly neighbors. Businesses going out of their way, at some expense, to take care of us. Little good will come out of this virus, but folks realizing that we’re in this together has been a good thing. I wish it never happened, but it has, and being in this in West Virginians with caring people … well, it isn’t a bad place to be. Stay well.
Dr. Samuel is a retired wildlife professor from West Virginia University. His outdoor columns have appeared, and continue to appear, in Bowhunter magazine and the Whitetail Journal. If you have questions or comments on wildlife and conservation issues, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.